The cover glows: "Mario Puzo" is written across the middle in dazzling red neon script. But regrettably, the inside of the book is a dissappointment.

Puzo's writing is needlessly coarse and vulgar - "Harry made sure there was plenty of booze on the plane as well as some wild broads." - and the gambling history is carelessly written. Every page is full of hackneyed phrasing and cliched ideas ("Big business in America has always been far more ruthless than our criminal elements.") that tell the reader nothing about the "inside" of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is a wicked and sinful and glittering and fascinating city. Many of its people are, in fact, jangled and depraved. But when he describes the city, Puzo resorts mainly to recitations of numbers and percentages in Chamber of Commerce style. And when he writes about the people, he often falls back on stories that have been better told before.

Early in the book Puzo tells us that he is a "reformed" gambler (his reformation took place after the huge success of The Godfather ), and he is filled with piety and pompous disdane for the unfortunates who have not found righteous pathways. Only briefly, when he describes his own (rather lurid) past, does the book come to life.

There is a saving grace. The photographs that make up about half the bulk of the book are magnificent, especially the black-and-white photographs done by Michael Abramson and Susan Fowler-Gallagher. On the faces of the gamblers and the dealers and the show girls and mobsters are written stories of greed and happiness and lust and joy and avarice and boredom - a black man who has just busted out, laughing; a faro dealer with tight little pig eyes - stories that Puzo has failed to record or to comprehend. (Grosset & Dunlap, $14.95)

- Jim Morgan